Field Note on Food
Well, well! Although there are lots of delicious foods and dishes out here in Russia, I am going to focus on one particular dish today. I picked this dish because right now in St. Petersburg we are celebrating a special holiday that involves this food! What I’m about to teach you how to cook is none other than the Russian pancake, also known as blini! The week-long holiday we’re celebrating is called Maslenitsa. That’s right! This holiday lasts seven whole days!
Maslenitsa is both a religious and folk holiday. The reason why it is considered a religious holiday is because it is celebrated by Orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christianity is the most well known and practiced religion here in Russia today. During this week, Russian Orthodox Christians are forbidden to eat meat. On the other hand, they take full advantage of the fact that they are still permitted to eat other things like milk, cheese and butter. These are the main ingredients used to make most of their dishes during this special week. Their favorite dish being blini! Not surprisingly, Maslenitsa can also be referred to as “butter week” or “pancake week” because of this. It’s also considered a folk holiday because of Russia’s pagan origins before Christianity was introduced to its people. Paganism is a different kind of religion usually involving a number of different gods or goddesses and believed in by the native people of a certain region. Russia was pagan before it was Christian, and something that the pagans celebrated was the coming of Spring. They performed different rituals during this week. One of their customs was to make blini, which represented the sun because of its round shape and golden yellow color. Blini is a reminder to them that Winter is almost over and Spring is on its way! In both cases, it is a time of festivities and lots of blini eating!
Now, on to blini! Blini is not your typical pancake. It’s much thinner than the kind of pancakes we like to think of in the States. Not only that but blini can be paired with almost everything and anything! Although the blini are all made the same way and with the same ingredients, Russians like to put all sorts of different things inside of them. For example, you could have a sweet blini with strawberries or bananas wrapped inside. They sometimes add powdered sugar or chocolate syrup on top. It’s almost like a dessert! Yet, sometimes they do the opposite and turn it into a meal by putting ham and cheese inside or salmon and cream cheese. Two of their favorite things to put inside blini are cabbage with eggs and caviar. Caviar is fish eggs!
As you can see, Russians love blini! They love it so much that they even created and devoted a whole restaurant to making blini! This restaurant is kind of like a fast-food restaurant. It’s the Russian version of McDonalds and Burger King, except instead of hamburgers and fries it’s for Russian pancakes! It’s called Teremok and I’ve been there a few times before. It was fun watching the cooks at Teremok make my blini order right in front of me. I thought about sharing my experiences there with you, but I decided to give blini-making a try myself. We’re in this together of course! So I bought all the ingredients to make blini and brought them home.
I wouldn’t share a recipe with you without having given it a try a myself! I highly encourage you take the recipe I’ve created after doing a little research. Bring it home. Try to make blini this week with your family! It’s delicious and you can be very creative with what you put inside! You’re the chef! Take a few pictures and if you like send them to me. I’d love to see your version of Russian pancakes!
Val’s Blini Recipe
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of warm milk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
1- In a bowl mix together the eggs, sugar, baking soda and salt.
2- Slowly stir in the milk and flour. Continue mixing until there are no clumps of flour left and the batter is smooth.
3- Heat a pan over medium to high heat and lightly grease the pan with butter or vegetable oil. This way the blini won’t get stuck to the pan!
4- Pour about 2 tablespoons batter onto the pan, using the spoon that you used to mix the ingredients in the first place. Then spread it evenly across the surface of the pan in an outward circular motion.
5- Cook until the edges are crispy and a golden brown color.
6- When you see that the center or middle part of the blini is bubbly and dry-looking, flip the blini and cook the other side for about another minute or two.
7- Once you see that both sides are cooked to a golden brown color, remove the blini from the pan and put it on a plate.
8- Now you can add whatever you want as a filler or a topping for your blini! You can also keep it flat and layer them, fold them up however you like, or roll them up like I did when I ate them plain!